Islamic tradition attributes the beginning of Mecca to Ishmael's descendants. In the 7th century, the Islamic prophet Muhammad proclaimed Islam in the city, by then an important trading center, and the city played an important role in the early history of Islam. After 966, Mecca was led by local sharifs, until 1924, when it came under the rule of the Saudis. In its modern period, Mecca has seen a great expansion in size and infrastructure.
The modern day city is located in and the capital of Saudi Arabia's Makkah Province, in the historic Hejaz region. With a population of 1,700,000 (2008), the city is located 73 kilometres (45 miles) inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley, and 277 metres (910 ft) above sea level.
In the 1980s, the Saudi Arabian government and others began promoting the transliteration Makkah (in full form, Makkah al-Mukarramah), which more closely resembles the actual Arabic pronunciation. This spelling is starting to be taken up by many organizations, including the United Nations, United States Department of State, and the British Foreign Office, but the spelling Mecca remains in common use.
Another alternative is Meccah.
Mecca is the capital of Makkah Province, which includes neighboring Jeddah. The governor was Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdul Aziz from 2000 until his death in 2007. On May 16, 2007, Prince Khalid al Faisal was appointed as the new governor.
The city was also known to Ptolemy as "Macoraba". In the 5th century, the Quraysh tribe took control of Mecca, and became skilled merchants and traders. In the 6th century they joined the lucrative spice trade as well, since battles in other parts of the world were causing trade routes to divert from the dangerous sea routes to the relatively more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been on the increase. Another previous route, that from the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was also being threatened by exploitation from the Sassanid Empire, as well as being disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman-Persian Wars. Mecca's prominence as a trading center surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra.
By the middle of the 6th century, there were three major settlements in northern Arabia, all along the southwestern coast that borders the Red Sea, in a habitable region between the sea and the great desert to the east. This area, known as the Hejaz, featured three settlements that had grown around oases, where water was available. In the center of the Hejaz was Yathrib, later renamed as Medina. south of Yathrib was Taif, a mountain town, and northwest of Taif was Mecca. Though the area around Mecca was completely barren, Mecca was the wealthiest and most important of the three settlements. Islamic histories state that it had abundant water via the Zamzam Well, which was the site of the holiest shrine in Arabia, the Kaaba, and was also at the crossroads of major caravan routes.. Actually the well of Zamzam was barely sufficient to support the small community there, the Kaaba was but one of many such Arabian Polytheistic temple found in the peninsula, and the city was the terminus for a single caravan route which ran from Mecca to Syria.
The harsh conditions of the Arabian peninsula usually meant a constant state of conflict between the tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in an annual pilgrimage. This journey was intended for religious reasons, to pay homage to the shrine, and to drink from the Well of Zamzam. However, it was also the time each year that disputes would be arbitrated, debts would be resolved, and trading would occur at Meccan fairs. These annual events gave the tribes a sense of common identity and made Mecca extremely important throughout the peninsula.
Muhammad's great-grandfather had been the first to equip a camel caravan, and they became a regular part of the town's economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca, and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring leather, livestock, and metals which were mined in the local mountains. Caravans would then be loaded up in Mecca, and would take the goods to the cities in Syria and Iraq. Islamic tradition claims that goods from other continents also flowed through Mecca. From Africa and the Far East towards Syria supposedly flowed spices, leather, drugs, cloth, and slaves; and in return Mecca was to have received money, weapons, cereals, and wine, which were distributed throughout Arabia. The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins, and negotiated safe passage for caravans, which included such things as water and pasture rights. These further increased Mecca's political power as well as economic, and Mecca became the center of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other forces such as the Abyssinian, Ghassan, and Lakhm were in decline, and Meccan influence was the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century.
Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, and thus Islam has been inextricably linked with Mecca ever since. Muhammad was born in a minor faction, the Hashemites, of the ruling Quraysh tribe. Islamic tradition states that he began receiving divine revelations here in 610 AD, and began to preach monotheism against Meccan paganism. After enduring persecution for 13 years, Muhammad emigrated (see Hijra) in 622 with his followers to Medina. The conflict between the Quraysh and the Muslims, however, continued: the two fought Battle of Badr, where Muslims defeated the Quraysh outside Medina; whilst the Meccans overcame the Muslims at the Battle of Uhud. Overall, however, Meccan efforts to annihilate Islam were unsuccessful, and during the Battle of the Trench in 627, the combined armies of Arabia were unable to defeat Muhammad.
In 628, Muhammad and his followers peacefully marched to Mecca, attempting to enter the city for pilgrimage. Instead, however, both Muslims and Meccans entered into the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, whereby Muslims and Quraysh would cease fighting and Muslims would be allowed into the city the following year. Two years later the Quraysh violated the truce, but instead of continuing their fight, the city of Mecca shortly surrendered to Muhammad. The prophet declared amnesty for the inhabitants, gave generous gifts to the leading Quraysh. Mecca was cleansed of all its idols and cult images in the Kaaba. Muhammad declared Mecca as the holiest site in Islam ordaining it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage, one of the faith's five pillars. Despite his conquest, however, Muhammad chose to return to Medina, leaving behind Attab bin Usaid to govern the city. Muhammad's other activities in Arabia led to the unification of the peninsula, putting an end to the wars that had disrupted life in the city for so long.
Muhammad died in 632, but with the sense of unity that he had passed on to the Arabians, Islam began a rapid expansion, and within the next few hundred years stretched from North Africa well into Asia. As the Islamic Empire grew, Mecca continued to attract pilgrims not just from Arabia, but now from all across the Empire, as Muslims sought to perform the annual Hajj.
Mecca also attracted a year-round population of scholars, pious Muslims who wished to live close to the Kaaba, and local inhabitants who served the pilgrims. Due to the difficulty and expense of the Hajj, pilgrims arrived by boat at Jeddah, and came overland, or joined the annual caravans from Syria or Iraq.
Mecca was never the capital of any of the Caliphates including the Ottoman Empire. Muslim rulers did, however, contribute to its upkeep. During the reign of Umar and Uthman, concerns of flooding caused the caliphs to bring in Christian engineers to build barrages in the high-lying quarters, and also to construct dykes and embankments to protect the area round the Kaʿba.
In Islamic history, Muhammad's emigration to Medina established the city as the first capital of the nation. When the Umayyad dynasty took power they moved the capital to Damascus, Syria, and then the Abbasid Caliphate moved the capital to Baghdad, Iraq. The center of the Islamic Empire remained at Baghdad for nearly 500 years, and flourished into a center of research and commerce. In the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Baghdad and sacked the city. This event was one of the most detested events in Islamic history. Soon after the Battle of Baghdad, the Mongols rampaged west and conquered Syria. The next city to quickly emerge as the center of power in the Islamic state was Cairo, in Egypt. When the Ottoman Empire came into prominence the capital was moved to Constantinople. Mecca still remained as a prominent trading center though. When pilgrims arrived for the Hajj they often financed their journey by bringing goods which they could sell in the Meccan markets, and acquiring goods there which they could sell when they returned home.
Thereafter the city figured little in politics, it was a city of devotion and scholarship. For centuries it was governed by the Hashemite Sharifs of Mecca.
In 930, Mecca was attacked and sacked by Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect led by Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi and centered in eastern Arabia. The Black Death pandemic hit Mecca in 1349. In 1517, the Sharif of Mecca, Barakat bin Muhammed, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Caliph, but maintained a great degree of local autonomy.
The city was captured in 1802 by the First Saudi State (Also known as Wahhabis), The Saudis held Mecca until 1813. This was a massive blow to the prestige of the Ottoman Empire, who had exercised sovereignty over the holy cities since 1517, and the lethargic Ottomans were finally moved to action. The task of bringing Mecca back under Ottoman control was assigned to their powerful viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, who successfully returned Mecca following the victory at Mecca in 1813. In 1818, the Wahhabis were again defeated, but some of Al Saud clan lived on to found the Second Saudi State that lasted until 1891, and later the present Saudi Arabia.
On November 20, 1979 two hundred armed Islamist dissidents led by Saudi preacher Juhayman al-Otaibi seized the Grand Mosque. They claimed that the Saudi royal family no longer represented pure Islam and that the mosque, and the Kaaba, must be held by those of the true faith. The rebels seized tens of thousands of pilgrims as hostages and barricaded themselves in the mosque. The siege lasted two weeks, and resulted in several hundred deaths and significant damage to the shrine, especially the Safa-Marwa gallery. While it is the Pakistani forces that carried out the bloodless assault, they were assisted with weapons and planning by a small team of advisors from The French GIGN commando unit.
On July 31, 1987, during an anti-US demonstration by pilgrims, 402 people were killed (275 Iranian pilgrims, 85 Saudis [including policemen], and 45 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranian pilgrims, 145 Saudis [including policemen] and 201 pilgrims from other countries) after the Saudi police opened fire against the unarmed demonstrators.
Mecca is at an elevation of 277 m (910 ft) above sea level, and approximately inland from the Red Sea. The city is situated between mountains, which has defined the contemporary expansion of the city. The city centers around the Grand Mosque area, whose altitude is lower than most of the city. The area around the mosque comprises the old city. The main avenues are Al-Mudda'ah and Sūq al-Layl to the north of the mosque, and As-Sūg Assaghīr to the south. As the Saudis expanded The Grand Mosque in the center of the city, where there were once hundreds of houses are now replaced with wide avenues and city squares. Traditional homes are built of local rock and are generally two to three stories. The total area of Mecca metro today stands over 1,200 km² (463.3 sq mi)
Mecca center lies in a corridor between mountains, which is often called the "hollow of Mecca." Mecca's location was also important for trade, and it was the stop for important trade routes.
In pre-modern Mecca, the city exploited a few chief sources of water. The first were local wells, such as zamzam, that produced generally brackish water. The second source was the spring of Ayn Zubayda. The sources of this spring are the mountains of J̲abal Saʿd and Jabal Kabkāb, which lie a few kilometers east of Ḏj̲abal ʿArafa or about 20 km east southeast of Mecca. Water was transported from it using underground channels. A very sporadic third source was rainfall which was stored by the people in small reservoirs or cisterns. The rainfall, as scant as it is, also presents the threat of flooding and has been a danger since earliest times. According to Al-Kurdī, there had been 89 historic floods by 1965, including several in the Saudi period. In the last century the most severe one occurred in 1942. Since then, dams have been constructed to ameliorate the problem.
|Mecca Climatological Data|
|Record high °C (°F)||33 (91)||35 (95)||38 (100)||40 (104)||42 (108)||47 (117)||42 (108)||42 (108)||42 (108)||41 (106)||41 (106)||34 (93)|
|Average high °C (°F)||29 (84)||29 (84)||29 (84)||33 (91)||35 (95)||37 (99)||40 (104)||37 (99)||36 (97)||35 (95)||33 (91)||32 (88)||33 (91)|
|Average low °C (°F)||19 (66)||18 (64)||19 (66)||21 (70)||23 (73)||24 (75)||26 (79)||27 (81)||25 (77)||23 (73)||22 (72)||19 (66)||22 (72)|
|Record low °C (°F)||13 (55)||13 (55)||13 (55)||13 (55)||16 (61)||19 (66)||21 (70)||23 (73)||21 (70)||20 (68)||17 (63)||12 (53)|
|Rainfall mm (in)||5 (0.2)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||0 (0)||25 (1.0)||31 (1.2)||61 (2.4)|
The current structure covers an area of 356,800 square meters including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to 4 million worshippers during the Hajj period.
The recent expansion of the city provided many modern landmarks such as the huge towers of Abraj Al-Bait, with height of 577 m (1,893 ft). The construction of the towers will be completed in 2009, being one of the world's tallest buildings. The site of the towers is located across the street from the entrance to the Grand Mosque.
The Qishla of Mecca used to be one of the most notable structures for Mecca, The Qishla was an Ottoman castle facing the Grand Mosque and defending the city from any possible attack. However, the Saudi government removed the structure, giving free space for new hotels and business buildings around the Mosque.
The city takes in more than $100 million during the Hajj. The Saudi government spends about $50 million on services for the Hajj. There are some industries and factories in the city, but Mecca no longer plays a major role in Saudi Arabia's economy, which is mainly based on oil exports. The few industries operating in Mecca include textiles, furniture, and utensils. The majority of the economy is service oriented. Water is scarce and food must be imported via Shu'eyba water plant and Jeddah.
Nevertheless, many industries have been set up in Mecca. Various types of enterprises that have existed since 1970: corrugated iron manufacturing, copper smithies, carpentry shops, upholstering establishments, vegetable oil extraction plants, sweets manufacturies, flour mills, bakeries, poultry farms, frozen food importing, photography processing, secretarial establishments, ice factories, bottling plants for soft drinks, barber shops, book shops, travel agencies and banks.
The city has grown substantially in the 20th and 21st centuries, as the convenience and affordability of jet travel has increased the number of pilgrims participating in the Hajj. Thousands of Saudis are employed year-round to oversee the Hajj and staff the hotels and shops that cater to pilgrims; these workers in turn have increased the demand for housing and services. The city is now ringed by freeways, and contains shopping malls and skyscrapers.
Pilgrims are of different ethnicities and backgrounds, mainly from Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East, of whom many have remained and become residents of the city. As a result, Mecca is much more ethnically diverse than most Saudi cities and its culture more eclectic in nature. Added to the traditional diversity, the oil-boom of the past 50 years has brought hundreds of thousands of working immigrants.
The first press was brought to Mecca in 1885 by Othman Nūrī Pash̲a, an Ottoman wālī. During the Hash̲imite period, it was used to print the city's official gazette, al-Ḳibla. The Saudi regime expanded this press into a larger operation, introducing the new Saudi official gazette Umm al-Ḳurā. Henceforth presses and printing techniques were introduced in the city from around the Middle East, mostly via Jeddah.
Jeddah is served by one major Arabic-language newspaper, Shams. However, other Saudi and international newspapers are also provided in Mecca such as the Saudi Gazette, Medina, Okaz and Al-Bilad. The first three are Mecca's (and other Saudi cities') primary newspapers focusing mainly on issues that affect the city, with over a million readers.
Many television stations serving the city area include Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, ART channels network and hundreds of cable, satellite and other speciality television providers.
In pre-modern Mecca the most common sports were impromptu wrestling and foot races. Football is the most popular sport in Mecca, the city hosting some of the oldest sport clubs in Saudi Arabia such as, Al-Wehda FC (established in 1945). King Abdulaziz Stadium is the largest stadium in Mecca with capacity of 33,500.
The Qur'an enjoins Muslims to face the sacred precincts of Mecca during the Salat. Initially though, the direction of the Qiblah was toward Masjid al-Aqsa, Jerusalem (the First of the Two Qiblahs). This tradition has roots in Muhammad's adoption of the Kaʿba as a physical focus of the new Muslim community, and the direction of prayer, qibla , from the 7th century until the present day. The determination of this sacred direction gave rise to an important study in medieval Islam, distinct and separate from mainstream Islamic tradition of mathematical geography and cartography.
The cultural environment of today's Mecca has been influenced by a religious movement that began in central Arabia in the mid-eighteenth century. This movement is commonly known as the Wahhabi movement. It has been also influenced by the Shafi`i school. Also, the conflict between liberals and religious scholars made a major impact on the Society of Mecca.
Since the 7th Century , Mecca has hosted millions of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world in their way to Hajj. This merge with pilgrims has also a major impact on the society and the religion of Meccans.
Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca by Saudi law. According to CNN,
Many religious scholars say this "discrimination" exists because Mecca was once a city where Muslims - including the prophet Mohammed - were persecuted and driven out. When Mohammed and his followers reclaimed the city, it was declared a sanctuary ... a place where every Muslim should feel safe.
Those who use fake certificates of Muslim identity (to enter) may be arrested and prosecuted by Saudi authorities
The Saudi government uses the following verse as a Koranic confirmation for this law, however there are other interpretations to this verse (in particular, People of the Book would usually not be regarded as pagans)):
As one might expect, the existence of cities closed to non-Muslims and the mystery of the Hajj aroused intense curiosity in people from around the world. Some have disguised themselves as Muslims and entered the city of Mecca and then the Grand Mosque to experience the Hajj for themselves. The most famous account of a foreigner's journey to Mecca is A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, written by Sir Richard Francis Burton. Burton traveled as a Qadiriyyah Sufi from Afghanistan; his name, as he signed it in Arabic below his frontispiece portrait for "The Jew, The Gypsy and al-Islam," was al-Hajj 'Abdullah.
The primary industry in Mecca in modern times is to support the annual pilgrimage of the Hajj, as well as to support the pilgrims who visit the city at all other times of the year. Major stops in their visit include:
The Kaaba is the ancient stone building towards which all Muslims pray. Many Muslims believe that it dates back to the time of Abraham in 2000 BC. All pilgrims are required to walk counter-clockwise around the Kaaba seven times starting at the Black Stone, in a ritual called the Tawaf.
Muslims believe that the Zamzam Well was revealed to Hagar (هاجر), mother of Ishmael. She was desperately seeking water for her infant son, but could find none. Mecca is located in a hot dry valley with few other sources of water. According to tradition, the water of the Zamzam well is divinely blessed. It is believed to satisfy both hunger and thirst, and cure illness. The water is served to the public through coolers stationed throughout the Masjid al-Haram and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina. All pilgrims make every effort to drink of this water during their pilgrimage.
Meccan residents are a mix of several different ethnicities and nationalities. This mixture of races has impacted significantly on Mecca's traditional cuisine.
Grilled meats such as shawarma, kofta and kebab have a good market in Mecca. During Ramadan, sambousak and ful are the most popular meals during dusk. These meals are almost always found in Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish restaurants. During Ramadan also but long years ago, a slave man called Sagga used to provide mineral water for people during dusk. The Saggas also used to provide grape juice. Today, Saggas are rich businesspeople, providing sweets such as baklawa and basbosa, along with juice.
Pronunciations in Hejazi differ from other Gulf dialects in some respects. The Classical Arabic qaaf (ق) is pronounced as /g/ sound, as in "get". Hijazi Arabic is also conservative with respect to the sound of the pronunciation of the letter ğim (ج), which is very close to the two sounds considered, by specialists, to be the best candidates for the way it was pronounced in Classical Arabic, namely, the voiced palatal plosive /ɟ/ and the palatalized velar stop /gʲ/. This stands in contrast with many dialects in the region which use /g/ or /ʒ/ for ğim instead. Some speakers replace the interdental /θ/ with /t/ or /s/.
The school system in Mecca has many public and private schools for both males and females. As of 2005, there were 532 public and private schools for males and another 681 public and private schools for female students. The medium of instruction in both public and private schools is Arabic with emphasis on English as a second language, but some private schools which are by foreign entities such as (International schools) use the English language for medium of instruction. They also allow the mixing between males and females while other schools do not.
For higher education, the city has only one university, Umm Al-Qura University, which was established in 1949 as a college and became a public university in 1979.
Limited radio communication was established within the Hejaz region under the Hashimites. In 1929, wireless stations were set up in various towns of the region, creating a network that would become fully functional by 1932. Soon after World War II, the existing network was greatly expanded and improved. Since then, radio communication has been used extensively in directing the pilgrimage and addressing the pilgrims. This practice started in 1950, with the initiation of broadcasts the day of Arafat, and increased until 1957, at which time Radio Makka became the most powerful station in the Middle East at 50 kW. Later, power was increased to 450 kW. Music was not immediately broadcast, but gradually introduced.
The city lacks any public transportation options for residents and visitors, both during and outside of the pilgrimage season. The main transportation options available for travel within and around the city are either personal vehicles or private taxis.